Masterpiece Landscaping Blog

July 23, 2017

Knowing, Remembering Names of Woody Plants

I knew what an elm was before I entered kindergarten.   Actually I already  knew of two ‘kinds’ (species) of elm, the Slippery and the White Elm.  The city of St. Paul planted a Slippery Elm about every 50 feet along the boulevard space adjacent to the street on the block  where we lived.

A White Elm, far more mature and  planted by Nature, was growing across the alley behind our house.  Its  leaves appeared very similar to the Slippery.  However one species  developed   very rough texture to the surface of its leaves,  the other  looked  very smooth, even sleek although they looked very much the same.  Guess which elm bore the ‘slippery’ name?

You’re right….the one with the rough surfaced leaves.

When a very young child I was  taught  that:           “God created the Heaven and the Earth…..and the Earth was without form.  Darkness was on the face of the deep.   And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters……And God said, ‘Let there be light’: and there was light…….And the evening and the morning were the first day……and God said, ‘Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear’:  and it was so.    And God said, ‘Let the Earth bring grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after its kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the Earth’: and it was so…….And the Lord planted a Garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed…..And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow “every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food;  the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil”.

Paradise was a garden, an ideal, a place of perfection and beauty without want and evil.

The above is what I was taught from the very beginning of my memory.   And there was more than this King James Bible declaration that had captured my attention throughout my life to the rule  that one is closest to God in the Garden.

I had terrible dyslexia as a kid….years before dyslexia was ‘born’.  I was a terrible reader from the very beginning of my school life.   I couldn’t read, that is see words  that others….mostly girls….could so easily see….letters making words, words making sentences.  Instead I photographed what I saw in pictures….not words.   To this day at almost 83, I am still a laborious reader.   Instead, unbeknownst to me until very late in life,  I learned ‘stuff’ by auto-memorizing  pictures…. maps, faces,  pictures,  photos, paintings, settings, gardens.   Enter the story of my life regarding the famous Canadian ‘painter’, R. Atkinson Fox.

I am four and a half years old in 1938.  I was left at home alone with Hilma, my Mother.   My sister was off to kindergarten every school day  morning, a year ahead of me.   Hilma, my intelligent, very driven, gifted  Germanic Mother  graduated formal schooling to conquer the world  when she was 13..  She adored classical music….especially Beethoven, Brahms, Handel, anything  Johann Strauss Jr, bits and pieces, here and there,  including Appalachian Spring, and the great  arias from classical opera.

She wanted to be the best.  She competed in ice skating and ball room dancing, the latter where and when she met my Dad and entered the 1920s ball room dancing competitions in St. Paul with him as her partner.   She knitted, sewed, she cooked, she baked and canned, gardened and worked away  part time late afternoons.   We needed the extra money….especially after the war broke out.

At ten o’clock five days a week Mother listened  to classical music from Chicago come hell or high water, as they used to say then.   Remember, these are radio days, 1938 on.   Then,  anything waffing into ones ear from a Chicago station during daytime in the Twin Cities and not carried locally  would be met with static….lots of it if the weather didn’t behave.

There was another irritation the poor woman had to endure besides radio static from Chicago….From age four on,  when my sister was off to school, I’d be  asking  my Mother a hundred questions per half hour (her statistics, but I’m sure she was right…..and then finally she rebels….”If you ask me one more  question, you’re going to the wall.   Do you hear me?”

I wanted to know the Why and What she was doing as well as what the world was about.  She was always so  busy, up to something interesting. I wanted to know, too.    At ten AM when it was time for classical music from Chicago, static and all,  I’d forget to stop asking….especially with my sister away at school during the ten o’clock morning hour.

So I’d get the wall….standing, looking at the wall for ONE HOUR….not fifty nine or sixty two  minutes, every time except once….when I pouted purposely trying  to make her feel bad…..I was there for two hours.  It became routine.  She learned to put me to the wall for an hour.   I learned to be at the wall for an hour nearly every work day at 10AM….for I’d forget, for I was programmed to ask questions.

The wall, just inside the front door,  was plastered.  Our  little house, a five room bungalow, was only two years old.   The wall smelled new and clean.

At about  the six-foot mark above me ,  there hung  a picture, a very pretty picture roughly 3′ wide by 2′.  In the lower left had corner was written  “R. Atkinson Fox”, the first reading I remember undertaking at age  4 and a half that year of ten o’clock punishment….leading to the following one morning when my sister was still at school in kindergarten.

It’s ten o’clock AM.  It’s Beethoven and Strauss  on radio time.   There I was well into my punishment at the wall…..tenth time by now maybe.  But it was no longer punishment.    I had already been captured by the color of this beautiful garden.  I had already recognized the hollyhocks and peonies early on in my sentencing.  Mom grew them at home.   I’d help her plant and weed.  I especially like planting tulip and daffodil  bulbs.   She made me know all the names of her favorite plantings.  “Bleeding Hearts” were exceptional.   She never argued or seemed cross while in her garden.

The day I remember so well is when I noticed in this “R. Atkinson Fox” picture painting the trees in the upper left background of the garden looked a lot like my neighbor  Mrs. Rowell’s, tree at the East corner of her house…a very narrow  upright proud looking ‘deciduous’ tree….the ones without needles I had been told.

“I wonder what its name is.  I’ll have to ask Mrs. Rowell.”

That very minute my punishment hour was up,  I ran out the back door over to Mrs. Rowell’s house.  I rang the back door bell…(Front doors were limited to grown ups in those days.)……my very first at the Rowell house.

“Why, Glenn, whatever are you doing here?” she asked so sweetly.

“Mrs. Rowell, what’s the name of that tree you have out front by your house?”

“Why, Glenn.   That’s a “Lombardy Poplar”.  Why are you asking?”

“Thank you, Mrs. Rowell.   I just wanted to know.”   By the end of the month I knew the names of most of the trees of the neighborhood including the conifers.   I was a boy.  I just  wanted to know.

I am looking forward to hosting you members of  the Wisconsin State Hardy Plant Society at my landscape garden this coming Saturday.

“One is closest to God in the Garden” is  an ancient  Chinese  adage I learned as Truth by the time I was ten.   I was so lucky as a child to have had to listen to Beethoven, the classical opera arias, Strauss waltzes, Appalachian Spring,  Wagner,  Puccini  and such at that wall listening “in blessed  silence”, yet occasionally with static,  along with  my own Mother.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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